A few years ago I was watching a TV programme and I heard a reference to the colour ‘taupe’. I’d never heard of that colour, and because of my synaesthesia I instantly thought it was a brick red colour (the T being the most prominent). Because I hadn’t been taught the word or learnt a connection, taupe was just the colour I saw it rather than the colour it actually is.
Funnily enough, now I know the colour of taupe, I still see it as brick red.
But then I started thinking about other colours, colour names I’ve known all my life, and I’m hard pushed to find a basic colour word that doesn’t match up with its actual colour (e.g. orange will always be orange even though on an individual letter basis there are no orange letters within the name). So what does this mean? Have my learnt associations over-ridden my normal synaesthetic perceptions? I would have to say yes. And because the answer is yes, it means that there are instances in which learnt associations do produce different colour perceptions to what comes naturally to synaesthetes.
The area of learning unfamiliar new words is interesting to me because it’s always intriguing to see what colour a word is, and whether it relates to the meaning of the word or just the word or individual letters producing the colour perception. This is something I will be adressing at some point because it has implications for learning a new foreign language, with words that mean the same thing as in your own language but are spelt and sound very different. Do the new colour perceptions relate to the meaning or to the actual word? This is what I’ll be trying to find out.